I thrust open the door, knocking the unsuspecting drug dealer to the ground before I slit his throat and move on to the next guy, staring at me stunned, as if this was all a bad dream. He takes a swing at me with his baseball bat, but I quickly knock him down against the wall. He sits there slumped, face swollen and heavy as I thrust my heavy boot through his jaw. The once grey carpet is now a ludicrous sea of red, as I take the baseball bat and move onto the next room.
This is just one of the experiences I had with Hotline Miami, a game so violently twisted that it is truly a shock to the system. A blend of retro-infused tunes backed up by some terrific gameplay mechanics and a sprite-filled art style brings 1980's Miami to life in a way that GTA: Vice City simply couldn't. It's bold, it's ruthless and it's a whole lot of fun, but it surely isn't for the faint hearted.
During our candid interview with the creators, we learned that Ryan Gosling's performance in Drive was a source of inspiration for the game, and after just a few moments it is easy to see why. Neon colours fill the screen as the pulsating soundtrack gives the action a whole new life. Slaughtering a plethora of evil guys has never been so much fun, and this is largely to do with the style, setting and music that Hotline Miami purveys. After just a few levels, the soundtrack will be filling your head for days on end, your actions quickly mimicking the pulsating beat that pushes you along with this murderous spree.
The story is completely messed up, down to the point where I've been questioning my character's sanity since I first started playing. Without giving details away, the player assumes the role of a nameless character who seems to know everyone in town, and has a predilection towards death. When people have a problem, they seem to call our anti-hero to dispose of a multitude of evil doers. We're talking drug dealers, methadone addicts, pimps and gangsters here, so at least the brutal murders that are soon to follow have some effect on the wider community. While we haven't finished the entire game during our preview, we get the feeling that story will take a strange and wonderful turn towards the end, and we're certainly looking forwards to reaching that stage.
The player assumes the role of a nameless character who seems to know everyone in town, and has a predilection towards death.
The game plays out like an old-school top-down shooter, which anyone who has played the original Grand Theft Auto will be familiar with. Players will need to enter houses or buildings, take out all the enemies on a floor until the area is clear, move on and then exit unharmed. Seems simple enough but you'll need the reactions of a cougar to survive. The enemies are ruthless, with one-shot kills ending your life instantly. Thankfully Dennaton Games has taken the "don't be afraid to fail" approach, allowing the player to simply hit a button to restart the last section. It's a great system that allows you to remain in the thick of the action, and keep trying new things with little penalty or frustration.
The game may be simple, but it's the amount of cool things you can do that keeps you coming back for more. First of all there are weapons, which vary from tire irons to baseball bats, through to shotguns and katanas. These can all be swung or shot, or thrown at enemies to knock them down to the ground. Once on the ground you can hit the finishing button which will leap your character onto them, allowing you to smash their heads into the ground until they are a bloody pulp, smash your foot through their jaw, or use your currently held weapon to finish the job. Most of these actions will leave you cringing as the screen fills with pools of red, particularly when you slit someone's throat and the blood spurts out as the sprites spasm. Some may ask why I'm putting so much emphasis on the violence when writing this preview - it's because the violence is actually an important mechanic to the story.
These horrible actions are taking place on screen, and as a player I often found myself gasping at the screen and thinking "holy shit, I can't believe that just happened," however our character does not feel good about his actions. Upon killing a hobo he vomits in a dank alleyway, he rescues a junkie woman from a methadone clinic and she somehow moves into his life, and we soon learn that our character actually has soul, and he's more than a killing machine.
Players are scored on each level, based upon their creative use of the environment, You may get 6,000 points for smashing a guys face in, but if you perhaps threw a shotgun at him to knock him to the ground, then used a tire iron to defeat him, you'll walk away with 10,000 instead. Killing people in quick succession will result in a combo system, and at the end of each level you are given a total score based on certain requirements. This will keep players coming back time and time again as they try to perfect their approaches to each level.
There will be many approaches my friends. The reason why we haven't finished the preview build of the game is because we simply couldn't get through the fourth chapter. We spent over an hour trying to make our way through, each and every time inching a little closer to completion. Some may see this as a bad thing, but it truly isn't. Hotline Miami tests you on each and every turn as you learn the levels, the layouts, you limitations and when to be bold and when to be conservative. Sure, you could use guns which will alert all your other opponents, or you could play is safe and kill everyone silently until the last moments. This is what makes the game so very addictive.
Hotline Miami may seem like a simple game when watching someone else playing it, but you truly have to experience the carnage for yourself. It is the perfect blend of art, music, gameplay and difficulty, surrounded by a shocking violence that drives the story along. It's almost to a point where the violence becomes a character of it's own, and that my friends is something unheard of modern games. We're looking forward to seeing the finishing product, and providing an in-depth review.
By Stephen Heller